The jurors have heard all the evidence in the trial of citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale. Now, court will be in recess until Monday morning, when closing arguments are expected to begin.
If convicted of felony obstruction of an officer and two misdemeanors, Tisdale could be sentenced to prison for a 2014 incident at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawson County. Prosecutors and Tisdale’s defense team rested their cases shortly after 5 p.m. Friday.
Tisdale, 54, took the stand Friday in her own defense, and prosecutors had several prior witnesses return to the courtroom for additional questioning, including former Dawson Sheriff’s Capt. Tony Wooten and the owners of Burt’s.
Tisdale and Wooten have different accounts of what transpired between them at the GOP rally Tisdale was videotaping before she was removed from the farm.
In dramatic testimony, Tisdale described being pinned face down in “pain and terror” on a counter while Wooten pressed against her from behind.
“With him pushing his groin against my buttocks, I felt like I was being raped with my clothes on,” she said.
The state had anticipated the grim image, and throughout the trial had attempted to establish that Wooten was beside Tisdale while she was bent over a counter.
Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer showed video from Tisdale’s camera on Friday in cross-examining defense witness Frank Sosebee, a former sheriff’s deputy. Greer walked through a sequence frame by frame in an attempt to show space between Wooten and Tisdale.
“This appears to be his khakis and belt leaning against the counter, wouldn’t you say?” Greer asked, indicating a portion of one frame.
“I guess,” Sosebee responded.
Tisdale said the episode left her with deep bruises on her knee, arm and “pelvic region.”
“I had a big handprint on my upper arm. It was excruciatingly painful as he was digging his thumb into my flesh,” she said as the defense showed the jury photos of her injuries.
Tisdale testified that she researched Burt’s Pumpkin Farm before coming to the rally. She said she found “dozens” of photos and videos taken by others visiting the farm. Tisdale was aware the farm was private property, but she also read advertisements that the rally was free and open to the public.
“If it has been open to the public and everyone is invited, that means me too,” she said. “I’m a member of the public.”
Tisdale said she spoke to farm co-owner Kathy Burt when she arrived and described why she was there and that she was recording the candidates.
“When I explained what I was going to do, there was agreement,” she said. “No objections.”
But Burt, who returned to the stand Friday, testified that Tisdale represented herself as being a member of Gov. Nathan Deal’s team.
Tisdale testified that she was unaware of the identities of the people, including North Georgia attorney Clint Bearden, who spoke to her while she was filming the candidates. Bearden had been asked by Deal’s campaign to set up the event. Tisdale said she told Bearden she had permission from the landowners. Bearden testified he could not remember whether he told Tisdale his name.
Wooten, meanwhile, testified earlier in the week that he identified himself to Tisdale as a law enforcement officer and only arrested her after she refused to stop filming. He also said she broke his phone and struck him.
But Tisdale testified Friday that when she was approached by Wooten, the deputy did not identify himself to her.
“At the time I did not know it to be a sheriff’s deputy,” she said. “I thought it was an idle threat. I didn’t believe him. I would’ve stopped filming if I knew he had authority.”
Despite asking Wooten to identify himself, he did not, Tisdale said. The initial encounter with him lasted about 15 seconds before she was removed from her spot on the front row.
“It was so quick and abrupt and immediate and hostile,” Tisdale said. “It made no sense to me. … I learned his name when handcuffs were being placed on me.”
Wooten testified that he was on duty at the rally and was not being paid by Burt’s Pumpkin Farm. Johnny Burt, who owns the farm with his wife, returned to the stand Friday, testifying he spoke with Wooten after Tisdale was removed from the rally.
“What do you think we ought to do? Put her in the car and send her back to Fulton County?” Burt said he asked Wooten.
“No,” Wooten said, according to Burt. “She’s gone too far.”